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Northwestern University

College Introduces New Provisions for Teaching-Track Faculty

The changes include new titles, longer contracts and a clearly defined ladder of promotion

Ask any alumnus about his or her most memorable teachers at Northwestern, and many would list at least one lecturer among their favorites.

These educators are hired by Northwestern primarily to teach, rather than to conduct research. Known as “teaching-track” faculty, they teach all of the College’s first- and second-year foreign-language classes, as well as many introductory and composition courses.

Now these teachers — who comprise more than a quarter of Weinberg’s full-time faculty — are being recognized with a title change that reflects their importance to the institution. As of September, they are now “professors of instruction” in their disciplines.

“The title indicates a level of respect that they deserve,” said Associate Dean Mónica Russel y Rodríguez, who spearheaded the title change and other new provisions for teaching-track faculty. 

The changes go beyond the title. Teaching-track faculty — all of whom work full-time for Northwestern — will now enjoy longer contracts after their initial two-year term, as well as clearly defined criteria for promotion as they move through the ranks of assistant and associate to full professor of instruction. 

The result is a greater degree of job security for non-tenure-line faculty “and better teaching for our students,” said Russel y Rodríguez. And that, she added, will strengthen Northwestern’s ability to recruit and retain excellent teachers.

“Their success in the classroom continues our culture of great teaching. That’s a self-reinforcing trend that we value,” Russel y Rodríguez said.

That trend was evident in the results of a 2013 study that found impressive outcomes for students taught by Northwestern’s non-tenure-line faculty. The study, by Northwestern President Morton Schapiro, Professor David Figlio and economist Kevin Soter ’12, suggested that students learn even more in introductory classes taught by teaching-track faculty than they do from tenure-line faculty.  

“Those conclusions don’t disparage the outstanding teaching by our tenure-line faculty,” Russel y Rodríguez emphasized. “But they do affirm the gains that are made by providing great teaching positions. It allows both groups to work together for the best outcomes for students.”

The title change will also improve the standing of teaching-track faculty outside the university. Ingrid Zeller, an associate professor of instruction in German, noted that teaching-track faculty often present their work at conferences or to the public. The new language will provide clarity to those unfamiliar with academic terminology.

“People outside Northwestern don’t really have a clear sense of what a ‘lecturer’ is and does,” Zeller said. “The title of professor (of instruction) is much more straightforward."

Zeller says she and her peers appreciate the “respect and consideration” that the new provisions represent. “They improve the morale and the professional environment for non-tenure-line faculty, and that ultimately increases creativity and productivity,” she said.

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